What Does it Take to Make a Sweater: Sheep Shearing Edition

I figure the first step in this process is to figure out what it is that I need to do to make this sweater I promised to make. The steps as I see them are:

  • Find a sheep
  • Shear it
  • Prepare the wool
  • Spin the wool
  • Dye the wool
  • Figure out how to knit a sweater
  • Knit that sweater

K, so I'm going to worry about finding the sheep a little later. There are a couple of fiber festivals in Virginia this fall that seem likely. Or do we know anyone with a farm?

Colonial Williamsberg Sheep Shearing. 
Maybe I should get a hat like that...
Let's start with shearing the sheep. I guess the first question is: what kind of sheep do I need? Apparently the main types of wool are fine wools, medium/crossbred wools and long wools. Fine wools include the well-known Merino and the lesser known Rambouillet. The fibers are very soft and short which, I am told, makes it hard for beginning hand-spinners (aka me) to spin.

Long wools have a course texture. They are better for outer garments or woven blankets. And the long fibers may tangle during spinning. Probably not best for a beginner....

Medium wools are still suitable for wearing but have longer fibers than the fine wools making it easier for beginners like me (can you count me as a beginning if I have yet to begin?).

I'm gonna go all Goldielocks on this one and choose the sheep that is juuuuuust right (aka a medium wool producer). That means I need to find something like a Blue Faced Leicester, a Border Leicester, a Coopworth, or a Romney.

Then once I have the sheep, I have to do one of the following:

A) Find an expert to shear the sheep for me. This is what many farmers do, as a professional sheep shearer is quick and much less likely to hurt herself or the sheep. Problems: There is actually a national shortage of sheep shearers, meaning it is unlikely I will find one in my neighborhood (even if I did have a sheep handy to be sheared). Also, they are not so likely to jump at the chance to shear just one sheep...they like to do a whole heard at a time to make it worth the time and effort.

B) I can shear the sheep myself. To do that, I would go to eHow.com and figure out how to do it myself. They advise that I:

Step 1: Hold sheep in a clean area or pen while waiting to be sheared to keep the wool clean.

Step 2: Find a clean rug for the sheep to stand on while being sheared. Shear sheep away from their pen or sleeping area.

Step 3: Get rid of any feces or other debris that might be present in the coat before shearing.

Step 4: Shear sheep in warm weather to bring out the oils in the coat. This will help keep the blades lubricated to produce a more even coat.

Step 5: Cut close to the body of the sheep.

Step 6: Keep the coat all in one piece as you shear and do not go back and shear a second time.

Step 7: Consider purchasing a shearing platform which allows the sheep to stand with its head secure while being sheared. This also gets the sheep up off the ground which makes it easier on the shearer.

What?!?!  I feel like this is like giving me instructions for cutting someone's hair that consist of: 1. Use scissors; 2. Cut with a firm hand; and 3. Make sure not to make it too ugly. It's missing a few useful details on technique.

It's possible that the Internet is not the best place to learn this particular skill.  I might need a mentor. Shear panic....